I Will Do Better Than Survive [Part 2]
This is a continuation of a post from last week.
1. Identify your role in the situation.
And no, I don’t mean, what did you do to deserve this. I mean, actively reflect on where and how you could have made the situation less dreadful for you.
Only by doing this will you develop the confidence and belief that it will never happen again.
For my part, my instinct told me these weren’t nice people. They acted nice, they flattered and cajoled me, but I sensed flashes of narcissism and gross self-interest that I should have heeded. But I wanted a job change and this opportunity had presented itself to me.
I knew in the first week I was there that I had made a terrible decision. I should have started looking for a way out then. But I felt I needed to give it a go and get at least a year on my CV.
It was a dreadful 11 months, and I left unprepared. I should have listened to my intuition again.
I should have got outside support. I was dealing with a sensitive issue involving someone with mental health issues who was under-performing, but had zero support from the business. They fired the whole HR department half way through the process. I should have insisted on outside counsel at the company’s expense when I wasn’t getting the support and expertise I needed. Instead I felt exposed and vulnerable and enormously stressed as a result.
I allowed the toxicity and bad behaviours to affect me. I got angry, I got miserable, I got disillusioned, I got insomnia and tension headaches. None of this made any difference, except to make my life harder to manage. Understanding that trying to push against a toxic environment, trying to reason with a narcissist, trying to establish boundaries with people who can’t think beyond themselves, is pointless.
It took a good few weeks of active reflection, talking it through with trusted friends, and journaling to be clear on what I can learn from this situation to minimise the likelihood of it ever happening again.
2. Get positive.
There’s absolutely no doubt you’ve had a shit time. The shittest time. And you’re still having a shit time, because you might be unemployed, short of money, with a bruised ego and the fact that a job situation didn’t work out. But as long as you feel negative, and wallow in your misery (on the surface a totally justified approach), you’re no good to anyone, let alone yourself.
Getting positive is common sense, isn’t it? We can all remember encountering negative people. When you’re on top of the world and you meet a negative person, you can’t get away fast enough, right? Equally, misery loves company, as my mother used to say. And what you want less of right now is negative people.
So if you need to, take a couple of days to stay in your pyjamas, drink too much wine, cry or shout or rant, binge on crap TV, whatever. And then snap out of it and get positive.
Two things that helped me:
Having never meditated before, I used some of my time to go on a meditation retreat, and it proved to be life changing. Now I like to think and talk about the ‘meditation spectrum’ – from listening to an app for 10 minutes a day all the way to full blown spirituality. You can decide where on the spectrum you’re comfortable, but I think the more you invest in it, the greater the return.
One thing it really brought home to me is the power of positive thought and manifestation, getting out of yourself and trying to be present. From Wikipedia:
“In the New Tought philosophy, the Law of Attraction is the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person's life.The belief is based on the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from pure energy, and that through the process of like energy attracting like energy a person can improve their own health, wealth, and personal relationships.
The Law of Attraction is among the most popular of the Universal Laws. Advocates of this mind-power paradigm generally combine cognitive reframing techniques with affirmations and creative visualisation to replace limiting or self-destructive ("negative") thoughts with more empowered, adaptive ("positive") thoughts.” – Wikipedia
This video explains the power posively better than I can (look beyond the clickbait heading):
+ Mental wellbeing
I’ve never identified as someone who gets depressed or struggles with mental health, but I walked out of my job feeling mentally weak and fragile. In a bookshop I came across the book Lost Connections (why you’re depressed and how to find hope) by Johann Hari. It’s an investigative journalist’s quest to understand some of the issues driving the growing mental health crisis and what we might be able to do about it. I helped to give me some clarity and some ways to think about my own mental health, and steps to take to restore myself.
A key piece of advice I took from it: It’s OK to be feeling down after an experience like you’ve had. And you can pick yourself up again.
So now that you have the awareness and confidence to never let yourself get into a toxic situation again, and you’ve got a positive mind set and are nurturing your mental wellbeing, you’re ready to start moving forward.
3. Write your hero’s journey.
Another excellent book I read is called ‘Time and How to Spend It’ by James Wallman.
One of the chapters, Kurt Vonnegut and the shape of stories, talks about the hero’s journey.
The author’s assertion is that it’s stories that have helped humanity evolve (something touched on in Sapiens as well). Things like religion, money, government and law are all stories.
He goes on to talk about how the Hero’s Journey has been scientifically proven to be the most compelling of all story formats. And key to the Hero’s Journey is the transformative power of a journey or experience.
I read this book in the context of having better life experiences, and spending my leisure time in more rewarding and fulfilling ways, but it struck me that I should write my narrative of my work experience as a Hero’s Journey, to turn it into a transformative experience. This helps you get perspective, turn a negative experience into a positive one, and it also helps when you start to go for interviews – or even break out on your own.
So write you hero’s journey. Make it as transformative as possible. Even if you can’t see the benefits right now, imagine them.
4. Celebrate your time off.
I’ve called my time off The Accidental Sabbatical.
In the last 12 years, I’d only spent one single day off (not Bank holidays or weekends) in London. I generally use all my leave to travel, and have never been a tourist in the city I call home.
I’ve also worked hard for 12 years, often leaving the office late, and when not in the office I was thinking or talking about the office, regularly carrying work challenges around in my head.
Now that I don’t have a job, I don’t have any of that. It’s enormously liberating. And you know what? When you don’t have work in your head, you’ve got space for all sorts of other thoughts and ideas.
This is the time and the opportunity to get your mind, body and spirit into top condition.
Here are some of the things I’ve done:
I’ve become a prolific reader. I’ve always loved reading, but I’ve focused my reading on non-fiction that addresses some of my questions around the world and society we’re living in, and also our industry.
I also bought myself a second hand digital piano and some sheet music and learning how to play again (I dabbled over 20 years ago). Picking up the piano has provided an on-demand access to the state of ‘flow’ which is excellent for mental health and wellbeing, which I won’t go into here but you can look up on your own.
Falling in love with endorphins again. The mindbody app is a fantastic way to discover local gyms and exercise providers, and most offer introductory deals (if you’re not working you want to conserve your cash). I’ve signed up for 30 days of unlimited boxing classes (I only went to 4 classes before I boxed myself in my face and decided it wasn’t for me) and am now into my 3rd week of unlimited bikram yoga which I am loving. Equally, a good walk around the park, and if you go in the day there’s also sorts of dogs to talk to, who are happy to see you.
As a new recruit to meditation, I’ve had the time to explore all different forms to see what resonates best with me. Here a just a couple (it’s so much more than sitting in silence or listening to an app!)
Osho (dynamic) meditation, which is done blind folded and culminates in some sort of primal screaming, and isn’t for me, but may be for you
Five rhythms dancing, which someone people call a sober rave and others call a sex club. Having experienced it for myself I’d say it’s somewhere in between but you can participate in any way you want.
Chakra meditation, which is beyond amazing, but isn’t readily available in London
Spirit healing, which is mind blowing if you believe in it, but not for everyone
The Golden Age Movement, which is immensely powerful and spiritual and healing and has a wonderful community attached to it.
Plus loads of other things to celebrate the abundance of time ...
Sometimes I go for breakfast with a podcast or youtube video.
I’ve made friends with the Jamaican community at the bottom of my road. One of the older guys used to be a tennis coach and we sometimes play (awful) tennis on a weekday morning
I went to a sourdough class. You need to start preparing sourdough days before you actually cook it, so not for me, but I’ve made my own bread
Random networking. I signed up for this new programme that matches you with someone for a networking coffee. So far out of my comfort zone, but I’ve done it twice had two great chats about work and life and consulting to start ups. You can sign up too, maybe we’ll have lunch! https://lunchclub.ai/?invite_code=catherinem2
Watching Wimbledon at the Kings Cross open air screen. Amazing vibe, especially on a good day. I even made some friends.
Even just writing this fills me with gratitude for the time off, for this opportunity to discover things I never otherwise would have if I had gone from one job straight into the next.
5. Network nicely.
I hate networking. Even writing the word makes me cringe a little. It conjures up images of me trying to pry favours or someone trying to pry them from me. It makes me think of finding myself in boring conversations with boring people and then not having the balls to lie about my phone number at the end of the night.
But nice networking is simply making contact with your people and sometimes your people’s people. It means approaching extra recruitment agents and keeping in touch every couple of weeks. It means going for a coffee or a drink or a dinner with your ex-colleagues you’ve always liked and would happily work with again. And just having a chat. Sharing where you are, listening to where they are. They might even learn from you.
Networking is a two-way street. And you can’t force it. Go with it.
It’s also spending time on LinkedIn. The good news is, LinkedIn has come a long way. You can unfollow irrelevant people, the people you never liked working with, the guy who always likes Oleg’s posts. And you can follow interesting people without the fear of sending an invitation and being ignored. There’s lots of great stuff on LinkedIn. I’ve messaged one person I wasn’t connected to who was looking for freelancers and we had a coffee and might work together soon. I messaged someone else in an agency I really respect with a heart felt introductory note. No reply yet, but because I’m being positive I imagine he’s just busy and will get back to me. If not, it doesn’t matter. I tried. You can’t force it.
Go to industry events. I know, again, you might end up in a corner drinking awful wine and then leave without having spoken to anyone. But you might bump into your old boss who is thrilled that you’re available for some consulting work. Better yet, find a friend or colleague and go to events together. They’re probably missing opportunities to network because they have the same fears as you.
6. Don’t just wait for help, find ways to help others.
I was extremely lucky. An ex-colleague brought me in to do a bit of freelancing a week after I left my job. It got me out of my pyjamas, it gave me some purpose, it got me working back with decent humans in a collaborative way and making an impact. It made all the difference.
As the contract was coming to an end, I started looking around for more help. And I realised that two other people I knew needed some help, in different ways. One I introduced to a couple of leads (where both parties could benefit) and the other was looking for a venue, and I connected him to someone who could benefit from knowing him. The link lead to new connections for one party and a venue for the other. I got some heartfelt thanks from both sides, and I realised it gave me more of a boost than getting help from others. So pay it forward, because it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, and it shows you the power of your network.
So that’s it.
Not rocket science, just steps that have proven to be life savers for me.
I’m writing them for others because it’s sometimes hard to see the wood from the trees when you’ve been beaten down by dick heads. And I want you to rise again. Because if you’ve suffered, it probably means you’re one of the good ones. And right now, it can seem like the arseholes have taken over. And we need the good guys to take the reigns again.
Now go write your Hero’s Journey.